Monday, January 20, 2020

Rapid Fire book reviews #13

The Visitors by Catherine Burns. This was a short, fast moving little book that I had heard some buzz on, so I picked it up from the library. The big twists you could kind of see a mile away. It was less than 300 pages I read it in one sitting of maybe an hour and a half.

Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin. I have a weird love/hate on the modern novels that riff on classic novels and/or are fairy tale retelling. I've come to accept a lot of times that these will just be YA love stories (and if you love that, yay good for you!) I indulge in that genre occasionally but usually I want something more fleshed out and substantial. This WAS more fleshed out and substantial. I like the realistic grittiness and complications. And all the discussions about the duality of man's nautre, because of course, Dr J and Mr. H!

Reading people: how seeing the world through the lens of personality changes everything by Anne Bogel. I always think I like personality books but then it's a little bit too much self reflection. Like how for ennegrams I'm a 2, and that means I can be possessive of my friends and it ruined my whole month when I saw that, because I thought one of my few good traits was that I'm a super supportive and loving friend and now every time I do something nice for a friend I'm like "am I doing this because this is how I express my love for them or because I'm trying to take ownership of them in some way?" and it makes me have a little mini meltdown. So, this book might be good if you aren't an emotional, possessive of friends, mess like I am.

The Bravest Battle: The 28 Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Dan Kurzman
I knew some things about the Warsaw Uprising but not as much as I should. And now I feel like I know a lot of things and they will all haunt me forever. There's so many tales of courage and bravery and self sacrafice in this book, I can't even do it justice. There are also a lot of descriptions of people being burned alive and dying in sewers. It was another one of those reads that was tough but necessary.

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen. This was such a succinct, easy to read book on a tough topic. It talks about that lack of empathy doesn't make you evil (a lot of folks on the autism spectrum struggle with empathy) but a lot of people who don't have empathy are capable of doing pretty terrible things (hello Nazis) OR people who have a lot of empathy are still capable of doing bad things when they feel like it's for the right reason.Really interesting read!

Mem by Bethany C Morrow
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was shocked that this is this author's debut. I feel like it's one of those books that the less you know about it going in the better, because the concept is just so interesting and weird and great that it spoils it a little if you try to do a lot of detective work on it before reading. So, read the synopsis on goodreads and if it sounds intriguing to you you will probably like this book! Pick it up!


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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Favorites!

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World War I's impact on horror in the arts can not be overstated. This was such a great book for someone who loves history, movies and how they intersect.


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This was the first book I read of the year. It was mesmerizing. I still think about it all the time.

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How many things do I love more than a Beowulf retelling? NOT MANY. Loved it so.

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Steinbeck and Bob on whacky adventures in a post-WWII Eastern Europe. A surprisingly light read, and funny!

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Did I think I was going to be too snobby for this YA retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales? Possibly. Did I read it anyway and really like it? Sure did!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Diary of a Part Time Vegetarian - A not book related post

Hi everyone! I have a nonbookish post for you today.

I was looking at the calendar this past week (putting the Christmas holiday in the middle of the week was confusing me to NO END) and I realized that I hit a milestone - 6 months of being a part time vegetarian.

If you're like, Wesley that sounds like a pretty non-committal, weird made up term I would say, dear reader you are correct.

A little before July started I was having some moments of introspection and decided I wanted to make a commitment to eating less meat.I couldn't even tell you if there was a specific thing that triggered it. It seems like it is better for the environment. It seems like it might be better for me. I already don't eat seafood. While there are some meat items that I do enjoy (McDonald's Chicken Nuggets, a burger with lots of cheese and avocado on a pretzel roll when I am sad and bloated - hello old friends) most of my favorite foods don't actually involve meat. So I made a commitment to myself. 1 meal a day is meatless. Since I don't generally eat breakfast this means either lunch or dinner. And since the husband eats like a lumberjack it would be hard to do dinners regularly so lunch it is.

I've done pretty well, I have to say. There are still times that I screw up - weekends are hard. Or surprise plans can throw a wrench into things occasionally. But I've been able to keep pretty close.

As much as I'd love to tell you that I have single handedly saved the world from destruction, I've lost a million pounds, my skin is glowing and I am the most zen human being of all time because I eat a lot of broccoli and brussel sprouts and chickpeas now - I can't do that.

But I do feel better. I like that I made a commitment and I have done really well with it. Not perfect (#human) but it just feels nice to do something for me, that makes me happy and not really give much a damn what other people say. . I have tried so many new foods. I have spent so much time in the kitchen. I am still not a great cook, but I have gained so much confidence in my cooking. Make some honey glazed roasted carrots? Sure, why the hell not? Make some curry in the crockpot that looks like puke but tastes great? Let's do it before Josh get's home so he doesn't bitch about the smell but for sure!

I've also had a lot of people in my life be super supportive of it, and that's really nice. And a couple who begrudgingly go along with it and are only minimally self righteous and shitty about it - which is expected.

It feels like personal growth.

I guess what I'm trying to say is....send me all of your vegetarian recipes that I can make on a big batch on sunday and eat for at least 3 days for lunches. Help a sister out.




I still won't eat Kale. It's stiff ridges are weird.




Monday, December 9, 2019

Book review: "The Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing Indigenous Women and Girls" by Jessica McDiarmid


You may have guessed from the title that this is not going to be a feel good book. And you will be correct. I first heard about the Highway of Tears when it came up in a wonderful, spooky, very Canadian book I read called "A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain" . I blogged about it briefly here (that is one of my favorite posts I have ever done, as an aside).

Here is our brief overview to get us started. The Highway of Tears is Hwy 16 that runs through southern British Columbia. It is a desolate stretch of highway that connects teeny, tiny, mostly indigenous towns, some incredibly far apart, over it's 700-some off kilometer span. This book is about the staggering amount of girls and women who have disappeared along this stretch of highway - who they were, what may have happened to them, how the police and government failed them and their families aaaaaaand racism at all levels.

Let's start with the state of the indigenous people of Canada, and sometimes specifically the province of British Columbia, just for more perspective:
- Indigenous women are 6 times more likely to be murdered than a white woman
In B.C. , 1 in 5 indigenous children has encountered the child welfare system. Other places in Canada it's 1 in 30 for non-indigenous kids
-The indigenous children who are in the child welfare system are at an alarmingly higher risk for sexual assaults, suicide, drug problems, HIV and other serious risks

The long and short of this terrible paragraph is that it is really tough to be poor and indigenous in this part of Canada. The odds are stacked against you, literally from birth.

So, there's the area that the H.O.T. runs through. An overwhelming majority of the victims are indigenous. You would think that the fact that an insane amount of people have disappeared, most of them without a literal trace, and that there might be a serial killer on the loose would be the main problem. I mean, it is, but there are so many other problems.

The very first problem is that no one knows how many women have actually disappeared along this highway. Numbers range from the 40s  into the 100s. I can't believe that it's less than 100. The women that we know of age in range from their early teens to their late 40s. Some of them were hitchhiking (a very common practice for this area and these communities), some of them literally just walked out of their houses, away from friends, away from a party and were never seen again. Why are they hitching? Cars in this area can be a luxury item, and there is not a bus that runs this route with any type of consistency,.

Part of the reason that we don't have an accurate number of disappearances is the police. A lot of the victims went through the above mentioned child welfare system in Canada - so many of them had had run ins with the law, maybe a drug problem, almost all of them were born into the kind of poverty that I can't imagine. Some of the police (usually the mounties) were very quick to dismiss a lot of these victims as (in least offensive scenarios) people who left for seasonal work, or just ran off to Vancouver or (in more offensive scenarios) people who fled the police because they had warrants out, had a drug problem, or had, you know, otherwise got what was coming to them because they had a risky lifestyle. As you can imagine, this does not make for a great relationship between the victims families and the police. The amount of mistrust is palpable. Some of the police never wrote a report, never helped mount search efforts. These are people who feel that they are "over-policed and under-protected", which is an incredibly succinct phrase if I've ever heard one. 

There have been so many symposiums and talks about what can be done to make the highway safer. Almost none of them have been implemented. Which probably wouldn't have helped because it doesn't get to the root of any of these larger problems.

Here are the two things that I can't stop thinking about with this book.

1. This book didn't talk about any close calls. Like, maybe a girl got in a truck and a man pulled a knife and she got away and could give the police a description. When these girls get taken they are just gone. And so few of the bodies are found because the area is so remote and animals and a lot of time these families are out here looking by themselves.

2. A goddamn Greyhound bus would have saved a lot of these girls. Not all of them. But some. Some sort of consistent public transportation that would provide a safer option for these people would move mountains in so many ways in these under served communities. Just a goddamn bus.

Women are still disappearing off of this highway.


If you are looking for more information on this terrible situation there are a few places I will point you to: the Carrier Sekani Family Services website , this quick video produced by Vice, and of course there is always Wikipedia. 



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Thursday, November 28, 2019

What I have been reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Hey everyone! Happy Thanksgiving! Hope that your turkey is moist, your potatoes are plentiful and your guests help with the dishes and not just sit on the couch.

Here's a few things that I have been reading recently:

Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames by Lara Maiklem

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I learned so much that I didn't know I didn't know by reading this book. Did you know that the Thames is a tidal river? I sure didn't. I'm still not sure that rivers are tidal. Is that a normal thing?! So, because it is a tidal river, when the tide is out there are muddy banks that some people walk around and try to find treasures that have been swallowed up by the river, and they are called Mudlarkers. What makes the Thames so suited for this is that London has been occupies for a long time, which means you can find things all the way back to Roman era. I thought that this book was super interesting but all I could think of was "how the hell does this person not get stuck by medical waste and blown up by WWII munitions left over from the Blitz?!" (Which, to be fair are 2 things that come up). Mudlarking is not something I am going to take up as a hobby, but was SO interesting to read about.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

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I wanted to love love love this book. A story about a woman coming to faith in one of the oldest, most beautiful institutes of higher learning in the world? Sounds right up my alley. But I just felt like it was too long and too wordy and ugh. Like, obviously I'm glad she's in The Fold but this book just was not what I was hoping. 

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
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Shout out to my beloved friend Maggie who got me this book for my birthday! Maggie and I share the love of creepy, gothic, violent horror story collections written by women, and because of that I got her "Her Body and Other Parties" as a gift by this same author. We both loved it. Then Carmen wrote this memoir, though it's not really a memoir in the classical sense - it's a deep dive into an abusive relationship that she had. There has not been a lot of literary representation of queer abusive relationships, so this book is pretty groundbreaking in that way. Also it's format is really interesting because while the story is told chronologically it is told in segments all through the lens of the house that Carmen and her abuser had lived in together. There were parts that will make you sick to your stomach (it is about abuse so, makes sense) but it was totally worth a read. It also has a great dedication.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

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Oh my gosh, what a fun, sweet, poignant, hilarious graphic novel. I just felt good after reading it. A graphic novel about the importance of friends, being who you are, and don't trust shady institutions, yo.  I WANT MOAR.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Milwaukee Film Fest!

The most wonderful time of the year for me isn't Christmas or my birthday or any of the other typical options- for me it's the 2 weeks that the Milwaukee Film Fest takes place! Film Fest brings all kinds of wonderful movies and documentaries to our beautiful independent movie theaters and I've found that sitting in a smallish theater with friends, drinking a tall boy and watching a possibly weird movie makes me so so happy. (What is less happy is when we do 9:30pm showings and then I get back home to the burbs and am in bed by 12:10am and then get up at 6:15am for work....I will never complain about it because I did it to myself and because I'm doing something fun but this body can only handle so much of that)

So, like we do every year: myself, friend Maggie and friend Garrett get a program book, 3 different color highlighters, circled what we felt strongly about and if all three of us circled a movie we try to make it fit into the itinerary. There is color coding, there is spreadsheets, there are Outlook invites. This is not amateur hour.

One thing that Maggie and I are particularly proud of is that all of the movies on this list were either directed or co-directed by women. Did we do it intentionally? No. But it seems like there are just a lot of badass women making awesome films and we are so proud to support them. And we are proud that Milwaukee Film supports them too.






Sound design is one of those things that you probably don't consciously notice when you're watching a movie unless it's really really good or really really bad. Sound can make or break a movie - what's Inception without it's Hans Zimmer "booooooooonnnnnnng" noise, or the quiet domestic sounds in Roma or the crashing bombs and the whirring helicopter blades of Apocalypse Now? It's art half finished.

This educational, 20 minutes too long but still interesting and fun, documentary takes you through the pioneers of sound design and the tools that they used to make movies what they are. I will never take surround sound for granted in a movie ever again. The time and patience that it takes to get the sound so that you can hear the actor speaking, and the score, and whatever ambient noise AND whatever special effects might be needed is a balancing act that would drive me to insanity. So God bless 'em.






I've had a borderline weird (admittedly) interest in snake handling churches since like, high school. When I saw this beauty in the MFF program I knew this I was going to be interested and THEN I saw that Walton Goggins was one of the lead actors and I was sooooooooooooold.

It tells the story of a young girl, whose father is the pastor of a snake handling church, who finds herself at a crucial juncture in her life. There is love and loss and community and  crisis of faith for many people. Beautiful scenery and impeccably acted. If you don't like snakes...this might not be for you!


At the conclusion of this movie I turned to G who attended with me and said "So, did we just watch people either actually starve to death or almost starve to death for two hours?" and he goes "yeah, I think so".

We were joking, kind of. It's about a group of scientists who are protecting a one-of-a-kind seed bank in a Siege of Leningrad-esque situation. Black and white with Russian voiceovers that were taken from diaries of survivors of the actual Siege of Leningrad. Was it the most uplifting movie to see at 3:00pm on a beautiful fall afternoon in a beautiful historic theater? No. But it's shots were artistically composed and the lighting was phenomenal and I really enjoyed it.




For real, just the poster for this movie made me want to gobble it up.
The thing that makes me laugh about this movie was that it had something for each person of our  group - a very outdoorsy person who hunts but has a lot of strong feelings about conservation and 2 of us who just love art and museums and general weirdness. This doc had something for all of us.

Turns out there is a lot of different styles/types of taxidermy - it can be the really realistic stuff that you put in a museum as part of a diorama, there's really like, high art and high fashion taxidermy that might be a little less realistic but is still very true to the subject matter, there's the taxidermy where you take the front of one animal and the back of another animal and make like, a literal cat-fish hybrid. (That shit was weird, but whatever.) The history of taxidermy as a practice is really intriguing, it started with zoologists being like "well, eventually we aren't going to have elephants any more so let's make sure one of them get's stuffed so out great grandkids will know what this majestic animal was before we killed everything off."  This one was fun and quirky with a beautiful amount of animals and some strange but awesome human beings.



Honestly, this was not a movie that I was interested in seeing but G feels very passionately on this subject so I agreed to go see it with him. FRIEND OF THE YEAR. It was at 10:00 on a Sunday morning and we had a delicious breakfast at a restaurant I hadn't been to yet before the movie so I guess it evened out.

 The movie is basically all about how terrible school provided lunches are in schools. They are mass produced, not super nutritious, usually covered in plastic and frankly just look like hot dog food most of the time. What made this particularly sad/outragey is that a lot of these kids (they focus on Boston) live below the poverty line and this might be the only meal they get all day. And some of them still won't eat all of it because it's just so awful. So, it's not all doom and gloom just because there are steps being taken for improvements. What made this one fun was that the director was there for a (reallll quick) Q&A afterward.



I'm still deciding on my favorite, to be honest. However if I would have skipped one it would have been Eat Up. It wasn't bad it just didn't really resonate with me as much as the others - and one of the main people that they profiled said some real, like, self indulgent/entitled things that made me cringe a little. But it was very pro-broccoli, so points?



Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Book review: "When Science Goes Wrong - 12 Tales from the Dark Side of Discovery" by Simon LeVay

I have one of those jobs where if I screw something up there are repercussions - I get yelled at, maybe my department is out some money, I feel embarrassed. All of the people in this book, when they screw up something terrible hands. Like at least one person dies. This book, written by a neuroscientist, has 12 different chapters where science went TERRIBLY WRONG.


There's a chapter about a hurricane that shaped the southern part of England in 1987, it snuck up on the meteorologists of England, and one weatherman on air was super flippant and dismissive about reports coming in that there was in fact a hurricane. I'm surprised more people didn't die. And also that the weatherman who was an asshole live on air has cashed in on his infamy with product endorsements. WHAT?!

There was a chapter about MDMA (Ecstacy) being used to treat people with Parkinson's disease or people with similar symptoms. It does not end well. At all.

Or there's the biological warfare manufacturing facility in rural Russia (yep, there's a great sentence when talking about disasters) THAT FORGOT TO PUT AN AIR FLITER ON A VENT SO PEOPLE IN THE WAY OF THE WIND OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING GOT POISONED BY ANTHRAX. Pardon the all caps, but GOOD GRIEF. Don't worry, most of the Russian government says it was a tainted meat outbreak. Also, did you know that the last person who was killed by smallpox was a medical photographer who worked at University of Birmingham? Her office was above a lab studying it, that scientists mishandled it, and it went up through the air vent into her office and killed her. A few days after the photographer was killed the scientist who mishandled the virus slit his own throat in his yard.


The chapter that made me say "what the hell?" the most out loud in my reading was about an accident in a nuclear reactor testing station in Idaho. (Yeah, not a great start, right?). There was an accident where 3 men were killed nearly instantly. One man was pinned to the ceiling by one of the rods that had shot out from the nuclear pool thing and pinned him to the ceiling through the pelvis (his name was Dick Leggs.....for real. Dick Leggs). Another one had his pelvis driven up into his abdomen. One other guy survived long enough to get him into the ambulance and then died. Their bodies were so radioactive that to get them to be decontaminated enough to hand over to their families for burial they had to amputate all four of their limbs and their head, and take out most of their internal organs. These families buried empty torsos in led lined coffins that went in a led lined vault that was covered by 6 feet of concrete and buried 14 feet down (don't visit those graves in Arlington). Their funeral services could only be 5 minutes long and the family had to be 20 feet back from the grave.

They still aren't 100% sure of the cause of the accident but such theories that have been thrown out include "Maybe one of the guys was sleeping with another one of the guy's wives and it was like, a nuclear murder suicide" or my personal favorite "Maybe Dick Leggs was adjusting the rods and one of the other guys came up and ~goosed him~ while he was bent over and he pulled the rod out too far and thats how he ended up pinned to the ceiling of this damn nuclear reactor". (Not a joke, that's an option).  Also, several of the people who were involved in the rescue effort died from radiation exposure, just by handling the bodies, or driving an ambulance with that dying man in it for less than 4 minutes.


SLEEP TIGHT EVERYONE!


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